The dirty secret behind today’s non-partisan press
Monday, December 29th, 2003
Tim Rutten, media critic for the LA Times, bemoans rising public skepticism about press objectivity. “To an extent unforeseeable just a short while ago, next year’s general election is shaping up as a referendum not only on America’s political future but also on the direction of its news media.” (Via Buzzmachine.)
Well, here’s a vote against the status quo that employs Rutten. I’m tired of listening to press panjandrums congratulate themselves and their peers for their objectivity. (Many journalists are so self-righteous as to demur from voting in elections, lest their hands be smudged by the appearance of partisanship.)
Here’s the dirty little secret behind today’s ideal of “pure” journalism. Nonpartisan publishing is a business invention, created to allow newspapers to take advantage of the telegraph and pool resources in the second half of the 19th century. Their ain’t no ethics in it, folks. George Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press’ World Services and author of Hold the Press (The Inside Story on Newspapers), admits that journalistic objectivity was an economic expedience:
Organizations like the Associated Press (AP) were formed to act as centralized gatherers and disseminators of the news, serving newspapers that could not afford to have correspondents in far-away places. In order to serve a variety of different publications (on the left, right and center), the AP could take no political or ideological position. It just delivered the facts as best and fast as it could, and stayed out of politics. What started as a business necessity gradually took on the mantle of moral righteousness.
The Associated Press’s economies of scale are being superseded by the Internet. As the economics of 20th century publishing disintegrate, the artificial constructs are disintegrating also. Is this bad? Remember that before the aberation of nonpartisan publishing, a partisan press thrived for 200 years, and fostered triumphs like the American Revolution and the abolition of slavery.